A two-time bone marrow donor makes helping people his profession
[July 11, 2022: Penn Medicine News Writer, UPenn]
Jake Purnell, a two-time bone marrow donor, is a nurse at the Penn Medicine Institute for Rehabilitation Medicine. (CREDIT: Penn Medicine News)
Growing up, Jake Purnell, a nurse at the Penn Medicine Institute for Rehabilitation Medicine had never dreamed of having a career as a nurse, until he attended an event to support a high school classmate who had leukemia.
Purnell decided to tag along with a friend to the fundraising event and curiosity caused him to stop in front of a Be The Match station. There, Purnell spoke with a nurse who explained how the nonprofit helped patients with leukemia, lymphoma, and other diseases who need a bone marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant through the Be The Match Registry—a listing of potential marrow donors and donated cord blood unit. The nurse discussed the process and the chances of actually becoming a match to someone. The conversation inspired him and Purnell joined the registry with a simple saliva sample.
Purnell soon forgot about the swab, thinking he wouldn’t be contacted. But one year later, he received a phone call from Be The Match telling him they thought he was a potential match for a pediatric patient and asked him to do a series of tests to confirm. One month later, as he was moving into his college housing, a coordinator called him with life-changing news—he matched with the pediatric patient in need of a bone marrow transplant. Before Purnell could respond, the coordinator informed him the patient’s health was quickly declining and if Purnell wanted to proceed with the donation, they needed the transplant to happen in the next few days.
“I was in the middle of unpacking my U-Haul and they told me they needed me now,” Purnell says. “I immediately said yes!”
Purnell admitted that he felt scared as he waited outside the operating room. His parents were unable to go with him on such short notice which caused him to feel more anxious. But a moment with a nurse anesthetist put him at ease.
“The nurse anesthetist calmed my nerves and helped me feel like the surgery was going to be a success,” Purnell says. “In that moment, I saw the impact a nurse can have and it changed everything. I decided then I wanted to be a nurse too and help others.”
In 2020, Purnell fulfilled his dream and was at Penn Rehab as a nurse for two years. And while the chances of being another match felt as common as winning the lottery to him, Purnell received another call from Be The Match. This time, the coordinator informed him that the recipient in need was a woman in her 60s.
Be The Match Community website where people can discover ways to support their life-saving mission. (CREDIT: Be The Match)
“The coordinator had been at Be The Match for 30 years and told me how not once during her career she had experienced someone donating their bone marrow twice,” Purnell says.
Six months later, Purnell was contacted by the coordinator—the woman who received his bone marrow donation wanted to contact him. When they connected during a phone call, he found out she was a nurse practitioner in Colorado who specialized in oncology, specifically bone marrow.
“We bonded over our shared careers, and she was just so unbelievably thankful. She even wrote me a lengthy email after, expressing her gratitude,” Purnell says.
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Note: Materials provided above by UPenn. Content may be edited for style and length.
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